Once more, the third time in the past three years, the State Civil Service Commission has come up a pay plan to change from the current blunt, mostly useless current instrument. And, once again, past history suggests that, despite Gov. Bobby Jindal now having most members of it appointed by him, that he will veto the measure.
The current system sets five gradations for evaluation of classified employees, where anyone scoring in the top three merits a four percent pay raise, no more, no less. Supervisors perform evaluations just prior to the employee’s hiring anniversary. Historically, around 99 percent of employees who outside of their first year of employment have gotten placed in the top three categories, but any raise occurs only when funded through the budget process, which it has not been for the past two years.
Past criticisms of the system, among them levied by Jindal, include that the rolling, ongoing evaluation process created confusion, the fixed amount allowed no flexibility, and that all agencies had to accept the same amount.
Twice, Jindal has rejected plans that did not allow for ranges of raises to occur within the categories and to differ across agencies. In addition, the application of the system has come under fire for the unrealistic scoring system, which removed the motivational aspect of granting raises to make it little more than a cost-of-living increase.
Unfortunately, the proposed system seems to make little progress on these accounts. It would collapse the gradations into three categories, award the flat four percent for scoring in the top two, and have all agencies award the same. It does create a standard evaluation period during the first quarter of the fiscal year where raises would go into effect at the beginning of the second. It did not address the separate issue of the unrealistically skewed distribution of evaluations on the high side, but did indicate after some period under this system that it would.
The Commission argued having three gradations would lead to less potential imprecision in awarding raises, assuming the raises depended upon the category, as some employees had argued this granted too much discretion to supervisors. It also mandated that an additional review of the evaluation would occur to reduce any potential arbitrariness or favoritism or the opposite. It would, as officials gurgled, have “public employees … feel good about this” and bypass objections of some of them of that link of the level of pay raise to evaluations.
However, building a pay plan around the desires of employees rather than the needs of the state, its taxpayers who pay for this, and its citizens who access its services is exactly the flaw in the proposal. Raises should be tools by which to reward superior performance, providing incentives to perform better. Paring down categories, not tying pay into them, and forcing a one-size-fits-all requirement on agencies that creates inflexibility removes most of the motivating impetus that taxpayers and citizen-clients deserve to make for a more responsive and efficient civil service. And if imprecision in evaluation was so important, why not change only the addition of the extra review, instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater by junking the expanded categories and also not accepting tying raises to them?
In fact, previous rejected plans did better in assigning raise ranges to categories, but met with Jindal’s veto because they did not include agency flexibility, so this represents a step backwards. This may encourage Jindal to do it again, and then recommend withholding raises for a third year in his budget presentation (backed by his line item veto), made all the more likely by the state’s continuing tight fiscal situation in order to coerce the Commission into following his agenda. And thus the citizenry will remain disappointed in a plan that continues to condone inefficiency among much of the state’s bureaucracy.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 08:15